The time is now for Tasmanian expansion

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Everyone has by now heard about the recent $140 million cash influx into the A-Leagues by Silverlake Capital.

One of the ways in which the cash will be divided, will be for expansion of the A-League Men and potentially even a national second division.

With expansion on the horizon, Tasmania must be given the next A-League Men’s team.

The biggest recent failures when it comes to expansion in the competition has been the lack of a geographical disparity.

Western United were founded ahead of the 2019/20 season with two teams already existing in the state.

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The initial plan was to be based in Tarneit and attract a Western Melbourne demographic, but stadium issues have made that impossible. Instead, they now share the same stadium used by rivals Melbourne City and Melbourne Victory.

Between games in Geelong, Tasmania and AAMI Park, the club has yet to develop a consistent identity which is the predominant reason for their shortcomings off the pitch.

The same can be said about Macarthur FC. Located less than an hour’s drive away from both CommBank Stadium and the re-developing Sydney Football Stadium, it doesn’t take a genius to realise that there are too many teams within the region.

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Sydney FC are a foundation A-Leagues club, whilst Western Sydney Wanderers have formed an identity with the Western suburbs. Both clubs have also seen high levels of success since inception.

It has left Macarthur in a difficult position where they are unable to attract a significant amount of fans due to their ‘boxed-in’ location.

It is not the teams’ fault, but the fault of the old FFA and Fox Sports, who prioritised higher ratings in the form of more local derbies, as opposed to regions that could have set up a sustainable and popular club.

As a result, the two aforementioned teams were the lowest in the entire league in terms of home attendances last season.

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Western United, playing out of GMHBA Stadium in Geelong, had an average crowd of 3,061 for the season. Even with covid-related restrictions, it paints a sad story. The highest crowd for the season was 7,016 against Melbourne Victory.

It was a similar tale for the Bulls, who had an average crowd of 3,488.

Whilst people may assume these figures were impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, that theory can be debunked by analysing the first few rounds of the 2021/22 season.

With minimal restrictions in Victoria and New South Wales since the delayed start to the season, it’s a similar story for both clubs.

The Victoria-based side have average 4,659 fans across three home games, although the round 1 clash against Melbourne Victory skews the data. There was a strong-contingent of travelling fans that arguably outnumbered the home supporters.

Macarthur have had stadium troubles but have still only had a total of 4,202 fans across two games. For a team sitting top of the table and possessing the star power of Ulises Davila, Craig Noone, Daniel De Silva and Tomi Juric, it simply isn’t good enough.

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If anything, it shows that something is not right off the pitch.

Teams are like pets. You don’t just swap them after you have a bad day or a bad year.

That was the mindset for many Western Sydney fans who lived around the Campbelltown region.

In order to attract a range of new fans that love the sport, a geographical seperation from pre-exiting teams must be factored in.

For that reason, there is no better place than Tasmania.

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Whilst you may have to cross water to get there, they are part of Australia and should arguably have received a team before New Zealand.

At least that way, if they were to win the FFA Cup, they would be allowed to participate in the AFC Champions League (trigger warning for Wellington fans).

Moreover, the local government is committed to growing football in the region. As recently as last month, the state government gave out $14 million worth of grants to stadiums around the state in order to prepare facilities ahead of the 2023 Women’s World Cup.

They already possess existing infrastructure good enough to support a team. Either Blundstone Arena in Hobart or York Park in Launceston would be perfect.

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But in the case that a new purpose-built stadium was to be agreed upon, the government would more than likely be supportive given their history of promoting sports in the region.

However, the ruling bodies must make sure that the team has a geographic identity. That means either playing in Hobart or Launceston, and not a combination of both.

Give the team an identity and open up the possibilities for future expansion in the state over the coming years.

In terms of potential fans, Tasmania has a population of around 540,000. The last time data like that was taken saw a 45% growth in grassroots football participation in the 2019 season.

In simple terms, there are 125 clubs and over 26,500 active participants.

This lays the foundations for a successful team to be built.

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Down the line there could be teams in both Hobart and Launceston, with the potential for a Tasmanian derby. All that is a possibility for the future.

But in the present, the Australian Professional Leagues (APL) would be foolish not to give Tasmania its own team. Worst case, another Macarthur FC is born. Best case, a whole new state becomes involved with the game which can only bring about a positive future.

It’s time to go against past precedent and invite Tasmania to the party.

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Dillon Izon
Marketing graduate at Monash University. Sports addicted, fan of Manchester United and Melbourne City. My gran “knows” Gareth Bale.

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